The best Warhammer 40k game of all time? Darktide convinces in the test with ingenious action and a great atmosphere, but also reveals small weaknesses.
Games in the popular Warhammer 40,000 universe are a dime a dozen. And even though there were many really excellent titles like Dawn of War or Chaos Gate: Daemonhunters – somehow the franchise has been missing a really good first-person shooter that everyone can agree on for over ten years and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.
After the last attempt called Necromunda: Hired Gun “only” delivered decent fan service, hopes now rest on Warhammer 40,000: Darktide. And this is completely justified, after all, the Swedish developer Fatshark has already delivered a good performance with Vermintide 1 and 2. Whether in the end all good things come in threes, we”ll find out in our test of the pre-order beta.
The atmosphere is (war)awesome!
Just like its spiritual ancestors, Darktide is a four-player co-op shooter with a strong focus on melee combat. In other words, you spend the majority of your time in missions lasting around twenty minutes each, in which you have to complete specific objectives and slaughter your way through endless hordes of heretics, disease shifters and other enemies of the Emperor.
While there is once again a tiny story that is retold every few level ups, like in Vermintide, this one really doesn”t offer anything special. It”s about chaos-worshipping cultists of the plague god Nurgle, who we cause trouble in the macropolis of Tertium and who we are supposed to stop, of course.
Much more important than the shallow story should be for fans anyway, that Fatshark has once again managed to perfectly capture the atmosphere of a Warhammer universe. Whether you are on board an imperial cruiser or in the depths of the mega-city, the unmistakable look of the space fantasy world has never been so beautifully realised.
You will always feel that you are in the extremely dark, uncomfortable and cruel Warhammer universe. Even non-fans will be delighted by the unique blend of gothic architecture, industrial sci-fi and the sweeping synth soundtrack.
As of now, however, you can only enjoy all of this in co-op; unlike Vermintide, there are no AI bots in Darktide and thus no solo mode. According to the developers, however, private lobbies will be added later.
The fights are in a class of their own
Although the atmosphere captures you immediately, the real highlight of Warhammer 40k: Darktide soon turns out to be the battles. The tried-and-tested, massive slashing and stabbing familiar from Vermintide 2 was adopted almost identically and, in our opinion, serves up the best melee combat feeling from the first-person perspective at the moment.
In each game, each crew member slaughters hundreds of enemies at the same time and no matter which of the four classes you have chosen – it always feels very satisfying. And extremely bloody.
The muscle-bound Ogryn bludgeons dozens of enemies with each swing of his club. The psionicist is a space Gandalf, incinerating the infidels with fire and lightning magic. The Preacher, driven by religious zeal, chops his way across the battlefield at record speed. And with the veteran, unlike in Vermintide, there is also a real ranged combat specialist for the first time, who lasers away all of his enemies” limbs.
Although Fatshark has largely stuck to the motto Never change a running system, the grandiose melee system has finally been complemented by a sensible ranged system, adding more dynamism to the tried-and-tested hack-and-slay formula.
In addition to hundreds of club-wielding zombies, in each mission you will also have to face squads of soldiers who will target you with their lasguns. And if you don”t want to risk skin and hair by bluntly attacking them, it”s best to do this in ranged combat.
Every now and then on the maps there are barricades, crates and walls that turn out to be ideal cover for ranged battles and behind which enemy ranged fighters also retreat when you open fire. Shooting feels good and is fun, but you”ll always spend most of your game time in close combat, as that”s where hordes of cannon fodder enemies can be dispatched most quickly.
The fights don”t present you with much of a challenge in the first two difficulty levels, here you can play like Rambo (in the third film!) himself without having to worry too much about your life energy or any co-op tactics.
If you want to experience the full appeal of Darktide, you should therefore switch to at least the third of the five levels after a short period of familiarisation, because only then does co-op play really become important. Anyone who intends to leave a mission alive must now also master the entire spectrum of the combat system, including blocking, counterattacking and dodging!
Although the basic gameplay is convincing at its core, in our 20 or so hours with Darktide we have noticed a few points that still cause us concern.
The most obvious problem is currently the technology: the title lacks optimisation, even with our more than solid GeForce 3060 Ti, the title only runs reasonably smoothly with DLSS activated. In addition, there are frequent crashes for no apparent reason and occasionally even dying servers.
The latter is particularly annoying, as all progress of the respective mission is lost in server crashes. At the moment, we can only keep our fingers crossed that Darktide will make proper improvements with the final Day One patch. If this does not happen, we would have to deduct at least 10 points from the rating as things stand.
The server problems are particularly annoying, as Darktide”s progression system requires an enormous amount of grind. To unlock cooler weapons and talents, you have to level up your character by completing the same missions over and over again.
And even then, there”s no guarantee that you”ll get anything exciting. Already in Vermintide 2, you drew your equipment from loot boxes, which became more rewarding as the difficulty increased and each side quest was completed. In Darktide, the developers have actually managed to make the loot system even more random, although there are now three ways to obtain new items.
With each mission you earn money that you can spend in the weapon shop. The big problem is that the shop”s inventory is only updated once an hour and we often only find junk that is not worth our hard-earned money.
After a successful mission, there is occasionally a random reward in the form of the Emperor”s Gift – but in our case it was never usable, as it was always a similar or worse variant of a weapon we already owned.
Finally, there are weekly quests from the random generator, which are sometimes extremely time-consuming. For example, we were supposed to find twelve scripts in a certain level. It”s just a shame that in Darktide we only ever have the choice between alternating random quests.
It can take half an eternity until the right level with the right side mission Find Fonts appears on a manageable difficulty level. And then we have to complete the whole thing several times and hope that our teammates even feel like looking for the hidden books. This effort is simply not worth it.
With the full release, a crafting system is supposed to be integrated into the game that could mitigate the randomness factor of Darktide. However, we do not yet know exactly how this will work.
If and how the developers have tackled the mentioned problems, we will of course let you know as soon as possible in our final test update. The release version will be available on Steam and in Game Pass from 30 November at 7 pm.
Darktide has enormous potential and could easily outdo its spiritual ancestor Vermintide 2: The already grandiose fights are meaningfully expanded with the new ranged combat system and with sci-fi weapons such as lasguns, bolters and chainswords, the whole thing literally shreds a whole level more.
If only it weren”t for this miserable technology that regularly robs the fun of the game – a problem that already existed with Vermintide 2, where players had to deal with poor performance, audio dropouts and Co. for months.
But maybe the model of the pre-order beta has paid off and Fatshark can eliminate the grossest errors for the final release. If then the crafting in the style of Vermintide 2 is on board, Darktide has finally overtaken its predecessor. And it”s currently the best shooter in the WH40k universe anyway.